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Aulus had visited the Temple of Juno where he had offered a sacrifice in thanksgiving for his wife and their marriage, and then gone on to the Temple of Jupiter to offer a sacrifice for the continued health and well-being of the Emperor, and to ask for favour in his quest for consulship - and for wisdom if he was elected (he would go and make similar sacrifices at the Temple of Minerva if he was fortunate enough to be elected).

Although he had Quintus Augustus' approbation, so that was something. He wasn't about to take it for granted, though - anything could happen between now and then, of course.

And of course he'd asked for the priest to take the omens for him, to find out if the gods were in favour or not of his ascending to the Consulship. He was ambitious, to be sure, but his was an ambition tempered with pragmatism, knowing that he wanted nothing further, nothing higher in Rome than that. A friend of Caesar's, not a rival - never a rival. He had supported Quintus Flavius Alexander through the grim dark days of civil war and would continue to support him, and his heirs.

The omens, as far he could ascertain, were favourable, and he left the smoky darkness of the temple feeling more settled and certain. He paused on the temple steps to throw his toga back (he had covered his head with a fold of it as was usual when conducting a ritual) and rearrange its folds into something more becoming a senator and less like a priest, and took a deep breath of the clean fresh air.

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Marcus wasn't entirely sure why he found himself on the steps of the temple of Juno. He wasn't usually one to be found partaking in rituals, or staring at goat's guts - his own relationship with the gods was private, internal and totally free from ceremony - but today, it felt like something more was needed than quiet contemplation or the odd poured libation. Things were at stake that went beyond himself. Other than the genius of his departed wife, there was only one spirit beyond the mortal world which Marcus cared to worship: that of Rome. Perhaps that was why his feet had brought him to Juno's door.

Why now? he thought to himself. Even during some of the greatest periods of unrest of the last two decades, you rarely went to the temple for anything other than official ceremonies. The sound of the flutes annoys you; you don't really believe the answer to Fate's great plan lies in some poor beast's spotted liver; and as it is, Rome is safer now that she's been for a long time. Titus ready to step in as Caesar. A new age of stability. Dear Horatia's husband, admirable fellow, heading for consul. So what is it that's worrying you?

Marcus had been staring at his sandals as he climbed the steps to the temple. It was only when he noticed the fabric of someone else's purple-edged toga flicking past at the edge of his vision that he looked up. Ah, perhaps the gods do arrange our mortal lives! What a coincidence, if not! Leaving the temple, pushing the sinus of his toga off his head where he had draped it in reverence, was the very man in whom all Marcus' hopes for the future lay.

"Fancy seeing you here, mi Calpurni!" cried Marcus warmly, spreading his arms in a gesture of surprise and greeting. "Tell me, how goes the quest for the curule chair?"

@Sharpie

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"Horati Justine!" He had not expected to see his father-in-law here, but it was a pleasant enough surprise - he got on well enough with his wife's family (though he had reservations about her brother-in-law, but that was none of his business whatsoever). "Let us not tempt the Fates, but the omens seem favourable enough," he said. "But we shall see. May I ask what brings you to the temple of Juno - if it's not too pressing, perhaps I could tempt you to a cup of wine somewhere?"

Whether Horatius Justinus would want to risk the wine in any of the local establishments was something else, of course, although the places near the Forum weren't the worst in Rome - they couldn't serve anything worse than second-rate wine if they wanted to be able to boast of having senators among their clientele. The senators' slaves naturally hung around the cheapest wine-shops in some of the alleys off the Forum while waiting for the senate sessions to break up.

 

@locutus-sum

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Good, good. Well, may the gods favour you. I, for one, as well as many of my friends, will be ready to cast our vote for you on the day.”

As Aulus proposed that they go for a drink somewhere, Marcus looked him over. Yes, he was a smart looking young man, an imposing fellow radiating dignitas despite his youthful good looks and his toga, slightly ruffled from its recent conversion into a priestly garment. Marcus felt a momentary surge of self-congratulatory pride. Yes, he’d been smart to agree to this match for Horatia.

As much as he admired his son-in-law, though, the prospect of visiting one of the wine bars near the Forum was not an appealing prospect. Some did serve Senatorial clients, yes - he had no doubt Aulus would only take him to the most respectable of establishments - but these clients tended to be of the popularis type, showing their faces in the city, building up a presence. He would much prefer a private drink in the comfort of his or Aulus’ home. He was, however, extremely keen to have a chat with this (hopefully) consul-to-be, the capturing stone on the game board that was scratched into his mind like the ones you saw scribbled on the counter at tabernae. And Marcus certainly didn’t like to think himself a snob. No, he’d go for a cup of wine with him. He didn’t quite know what he was going to do at the temple, anyway.

Oh, I have no business with the Queen of the Heavens, no,” chuckled Marcus, clapping Aulus roughly on the shoulder, “and I’d be delighted to take a cup with you.” He coughed, taking a deep breath in as he looked down at the thronging crowd of plebs on the street below then back to Aulus. “Lead the way.”

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"I thank you," Aulus replied. It was kindly meant, and his being elected was by no means certain, even with the promises of support that he had - and some of them from the very highest; Quintus Caesar himself had said he would support Aulus in his candidacy.

Aulus led the way from the steps of the Temple of Juno toward one of the quieter, more discreet, of the numerous wine-shops and popinae that were found in the environs of the Forum. It was not one of the lower class of such establishments either. He looked neither to the right nor to the left, merely expecting the crowds to part before him which, for the most part, they did.

They were able to take a seat inside, out of the heat, and the proprietor placed a jug of wine and two beakers on the table in short order, pouring a cup for each man before retreating.

"So, how are things with you these days?" he asked once they were both settled with little to threaten to disturb them.

 

@locutus-sum

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Now he was indoors and out of the heat and bustle of the streets, Marcus was feeling a little perkier. He took a tentative sip of the wine the proprietor had served him - hm, undiluted, and not that bad. He raised his eyebrows at Aulus in pleasant surprise, tilting his head back to take a large gulp of the stuff. His son-in-law smiled politely, leant forward, and began the conversation with a general inquiry as to the state of things. What to tell him? In his personal life, such as it was, everything was fine. His children happily married. His grandchildren growing up nicely. He himself, of course, was falling to pieces, but then that was nothing new. Public affairs filled the hole in his domestic life.

"Do you know, I think things are looking up! So few troublemakers about these days, thanks to Caesar, that I've actually taken up legal work again. Legal work! I tell you, it's been nigh on two lustra since I last spoke in a court of law," grinned Marcus, leaning forward confidentially. That he was enjoying himself wasn't entirely a lie - he did fancy himself as a pretty decent lawyer, and something about the composition of a speech, the rapt attention of the spectators, appealed to his sense of service, or his ego, one of the two. And they took up his time, gave him fewer hours to spend alone with his awful thoughts. Less time to feel.

Marcus grappled to think of something else to say. His whole life was politics, and politics was sleepier right now than Livia's little villa in Tibur. He traced the grain of the table with his fingertips, swilled the wine around his mouth, interlaced his fingers and fiddled with his signet ring. Stop it, Marcus. Pull yourself together.

Suddenly feeling a touch vulnerable, Marcus let his response hang, fixing Aulus with his imperious gaze, softened by a friendly sparkle, to let him know it was his turn to speak.

@Sharpie

 

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Aulus recognised that commanding look; his wife had inherited it from her father (and if Titus had inherited it from her, that would do his son no harm at all!) but met it levelly, with a smile in response to the fond look in the old man's eyes.

"We would seem to have little to talk about - Rome is at peace and has been for ten years. I daresay that you still have the same cases coming before the courts today as you heard ten years ago - heirs quarrelling over not getting the silver wine jugs or the villa down in Etruria and the like." It didn't matter where in the Empire you were, the same cases were brought before the magistrates time and time again. The faces and specific details differed but the basic facts remained much the same.

"You have no doubt heard of the Augustus' ideas to provide for the orphans of the civil war - I don't know if you were present in the session where that was discussed," he added, and paused to sip at his own wine. It was hardly the best Caecuban or Falernian but it was a far cry from posca.

 

@locutus-sum

(The proposal mentioned was in this thread)

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Finally a topic Marcus could happily discuss for hours. He saw so few people outside of the Senate these days, and as clever as Horatia was, she wasn't... well, she wasn't a politician, just a politician's wife. He'd be glad to have a proper chat about things, get some of his stewing angst off his chest.

Marcus paused, considering his answer, then gave himself a mental rap over the knuckles. No. You promised yourself to always speak your mind. Anyway, Aulus is a decent young chap. He probably agrees with you.

Marcus leant forward, tilting his chin downward slightly and looking up with cool eyes at his son-in-law from under his brows, which now knitted in the middle to show due senatorial concern.

"No, I was not able to attend that day - bad cold, I'm afraid - and more's the pity, because if I had, I'd have very much liked to have spoken my mind," he began, not noticing that the volume and urgency of his voice was slowly rising as his eyes grew steadily wider, flashing like a stallion's. "These children have had time enough since the glorious day their fathers' miserable souls descended were claimed by Hades to stew in their reeking pools of resentment, brewing up dissidence, festering in revenge. And now we propose to aid them by compensating for the dishonour and penury rightly brought upon their ignoble families. What we are doing, my dear boy, is giving these men, the remnants of the bilge-water we drained from Rome ten years ago, an extra push up the ladder, so that they too can don the purple and take their place among the ranks of excellent citizens to pollute our numbers and spread their anarchy among our numbers. Now, truly, I respect and love our Caesar, may the Gods protect him, and I have no doubt he was acting from the most benevolent of standpoints, but I believe that through his actions he has endangered the very integrity of the Senate. And it is vital, VITAL, Aulus, you hear me, that the Senate continues to be a body of upstanding citizens able to support and advise Augustus, not a breeding-ground for discontent and insidiousness. I am absolutely INSISTANT upon this point, you see?"

The young man had been listening in reverential silence. Good. A nice, well-mannered boy. After a few seconds for added effect, Marcus uncrumpled his brow, smiling slightly but without undermining his earnestness, to signal once again that he expected a response.

@Sharpie

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Aulus maybe should have expected the passion his query had provoked, and could counter it, even if he had not expected to have a political discussion over a cup of wine in less disreputable bar off the Forum. "Rightly or wrongly, we ask our citizens to become soldiers in Rome's army, and it is regrettable that in this case Roman fought Roman, but it is hardly the fault of those soldiers, and it's far less the fault of their children. Should we condemn innocent children to poverty and perhaps leave it to the criminal gangs who roam the streets to educate these children and give them some way of earning a crust or two? Or perhaps should we, as those more fortunate than them, offer a helping hand so that they and their children can look to Rome not only for an honourable service with the Eagles but as a patron and paterfamilias should they be killed in service to Rome?"

The question that had been raised at the time was not 'should they be provided for' but 'how should it be paid for'?

"Encouraging these orphans into a worthwhile honourable career can only be to the glory of Rome, after all - and they are young enough still for their character to be moulded."

 

@locutus-sum

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Marcus felt a little… well, irked for a moment, but it passed. He was a reasonable man, and Aulus had argued his point well. So he listened tacitly to what his son-in-law had to say, nodding slightly as he spoke.

When he had finished, Marcus looked down at his interlaced fingers, sighed for a moment, then began his reply.

“My boy, I can see we both want the same thing - peace for Rome. I would never doubt that for a second, and that is why my opinion of you is unwaveringly high. But you see,” Marcus broke off, smiled and laid a hand gently on Aulus’ arm, “your desire to be merciful has made you forget what happened. We may have had a decade of peace, but that doesn't mean that our peace is stable in any way. Even now, you say that it was not the fault of those who fought against Caesar that they chose this path. Those were bleak times, when Roman turned against Roman. But they did more than that. Roman turned against Rome herself, and in doing so, they turned from inimicus to hostis. This was not a simple race between the purples and the greens, Aulus, where men are distinguishable only by the colour of their tunic. This was the clashing of order and anarchy in hand-to-hand combat. If these are indeed young men of the type who might be tempted into thuggery, then better it be in the backstreets of the Subura than in the Senate. Don't let the formality fool you, my boy. That noble house is every bit as brutal, and a criminal in a purple-edged toga is still a criminal. In the city, they can cut a few coin purses. In the Senate, they have the power to spread disorder and moral degradation throughout the Empire. I saw first hand the consequences of tolerance towards such characters, I lost my wife, Horatia lost her mother." He looked away, blinking rapidly, then looked back up, a sad smile in his eyes. "But you're young, of course. You want the best for everyone, I know. But life, life, Aulus, doesn't work that way." He squeezed his arm once more. "You're a good man. I'm sure you will understand me."

 

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"I don't think anyone who lived through that time could possibly forget it," Aulus said soberly, and topped up his father-in-law's cup. He could never forget that night, walking across the city under cover of darkness right past the looming Imperial Palace and through the Porta Flaminia to head north and east, accompanied by a single slave (and how he had blessed his choice of Felix, then and since!).

"I think I may not have been clear enough - I am talking of young people of a similar age to Titus and Calpurnia, and I am not suggesting we make them into senators at any point in the future, but simply soldiers or tradespeople, give them some training in useful skills. They are from the poorest families anyway, poorer without their fathers, and would never be able to rise to sit in the Senate. Given a modest helping hand, they might rise to be bakers, I suppose."

As for criminals in purple, Clemens and Cotta had both been sentenced to damnatio, to being excised from the official record, including having any inscriptions and statues defaced, blotted from the pages of history as if they had never existed at all. If only it were so easy to blot their names from people's memories.

"I am sorry about Livia Calavia," he said instead. "An excellent wife - I am very proud to be married to her daughter."

 

@locutus-sum

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Oh, you fool! You silly, old, emotional fool! A matter of the plebs, a matter of funding, a matter of pleasing the people, that was all this was. And here you are, blathering on about high-falutin ideals, dictators, her… What must this young man think of you? That you've drifted off in the middle of your lifelong vigil over Rome, waking up every now and then to shout like Cassandra about doom, destruction and the fall of the old ways then snoozing through the boring bits? What Aulus had said made perfect sense. Actually, Marcus agreed completely. After all, was it not the wheel of violent plebeian revolution which rolled over his life, trampling his home in its unrelenting rush? Was it not its tracks which ran across that ivory-white form in huge red bruises, sending that delicate spirit flapping away on dove's wings to take refuge from mortal pain in Elysium?

Marcus bit violently down on his lower lip, glaring at the table. His thumb began to run feveredly over his signet ring, until he employed his senatorial self-discipline to restrain himself, placing his palms flat on the table and raising his eyes to reply to Aulus' condolences.

"Thank you. I know you are."

He spoke ever so softly, the harsh edges weathered off his tone by the abrasive winds of reason.

"You're a dear boy, Aule Calpurni. And she's lucky to have you. Horatia, I mean. And Rome."

 

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"I had not meant to raise such memories, Marce Horati," Aulus said. "Apologies."

He had tried to find something relatively neutral to discuss, a topic that they could both talk about to their heart's content, thrashing out ideas and suggestions. Discussing politics with a fellow senator who cared for Rome as Aulus did was usually a good choice, yet even after so many years, the civil war could not be quite forgotten - and Marcus Horatius Justinus had been in Rome during the purges that Aulus had escaped by the skin of his teeth and pragmatic flight from the city to the wilds of Cappodocia.

"I am lucky to have Horatia - she is an excellent wife and mother and I could boast about her from the rooftops if I thought she would ever forgive me for doing so," he continued, with a smile. He could not help wondering, fleetingly, if he would end up like Marcus had should Horatia die suddenly and without warning. He was not a superstitious man but made the sign against evil thoughts under the table and did not voice them.

 

@locutus-sum (sorry it's a little short today!)

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To deny that the conversation had affected him would have been a blatant lie; to admit to it would be to acknowledge his own vulnerability. Marcus made these calculations in the subconscious part of his mind beneath the veil of self-deception he had covered it over with, and came to the decision that the best course of action would be to ignore Aulus' apology and carry on.

As talked turned to Horatia, Marcus regained a bit of his composure, even managing a fond smile.

"Hm!" he exclaimed in vehement agreement through his mouthful of wine, gulping it down quickly and choking slightly as he replanted the empty goblet firmly on the tabletop. "My dear boy, I am so very glad I could find her a husband who appreciates her as much as I do. She's the perfect woman for a future consul of Rome: a loyal wife, dutiful mother and a clever shrew at that!" He chuckled warmly at the thought of his daughter and her books. "Don't underestimate the value of a good woman like that." By now he had finished off two goblets of undiluted wine, and he could feel a slight heat rising in his cheeks, his nose wrinkling in silent laughter that he was at a loss to control, or perhaps was fed up of controlling. "Do you know, a lot of people think that love matches are a terrible, terrible idea," he continued, whacking the table on each 'terrible', "terrible, they say. But I… ah, you there! Yes, you. Some more of this fine stuff you served us before, whatever it was - sorry, Aulus, what was I saying? Ah, yes. Terrible. But I knew, my boy - I KNEW - that I should allow it. Yes, I assure you, hardly a doubt crossed my mind. It's so much easier, you understand, when your offspring has good taste. My youngest, you know, married a fellow of whom I did not approve, to be… hm, discreet… but I… well. It was a mistake. Anyway, the poor fellow's snuffed it by now, and I married her off to good old Secundus - sterling sort of chap, isn't he? Yes! - but the foolish child, bless her soul, didn't really want to. She's an absolute darling, Livia - I do love dear Horatia, but she can at times be a bit… well. I'm sure you know. Yes, but my Livilliola doesn't have the… the judgement to choose by herself."

This little monologue was tiring him out, he realised, lapsing into silence and looking steadily back at Aulus as if to say: come on, young man. The burden of the discussion is now yours to shoulder. Well?

@Sharpie

 

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